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By Mark Rabago Staff Reporter

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (May 22, 2001 – Saipan Tribune)---Earnings from excise taxes and user fees for the financial year 2001 are likely to be the lowest in three years, based on current figures obtained from the CNMI Division of Customs Services.

Customs Director Jose C. Mafnas said that if the current collection trend continues, government revenue from excise tax and user fee could reach a shortfall of as much as $3 million.

Figures released by the division for the first seven months of the fiscal year, indicate that collections from excise taxes and user fees averaged $5.15 million during the October 2000-April 2001 period.

This translates to a significant drop from the $5.25 million average recorded during the same period of fiscal year 2000.

Using year-to-date statistics, the Customs Division has only amassed $36.098 million, compared to the $36.788 million for the same seven-month period the previous fiscal year.

If the trend continues, Customs can only expect total revenue to reach $61.8 million at the end of fiscal year 2001, which is nearly $3 million less than the $64.6 million in excise taxes and user's fee collected by the division in fiscal year 2000.

Mr. Mafnas attributes the low revenue collections for the first seven months of the fiscal year to low import totals, closure of one garment factory and a slowdown in the production of some garment manufacturers.

The customs director also blames the low figure on the residual effects of federal takeover threats, which, according to him, may have turned off prospective orders from customers of the garment industry.

The Customs Director acknowledged that the garment industry is the single-largest contributor to the division's user fee kitty bag.

Since it started tracking collections four years ago, Customs recorded its lowest revenue in fiscal year 1997, at only $61.6 million.

On the other hand, Customs recorded its banner year the following fiscal year when it saw excise taxes and user fees soar by nearly six percent, to $64.9 million.

In financial year 1999, total excise taxes and user fees collected amounted to $63.8 million.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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